When was the last time you attended an event at Western Financial Place (WFP) sometimes referred to as the “Rec Plex”? Think hard because you have a vested financial interest in this facility, which is losing money at an alarming rate and costing Cranbrook taxpayers about $3.5 million-a-year.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information (FOI) application I recently made and assistance from the City a graphic image emerges of a tremendously underused facility that’s costing taxpayers about the same as the City used to spend on its annual roads budget.
As things stand now, it’s not unfair to call WFP a “white elephant” and a white pachyderm it will remain unless we who live in this fair city and our elected leaders unite in finding a strategy to reduce the money hemorrhaging from this building every day.
Thanks to my FOI application, here’s what I found out.
WFP has a TPO (thermoplastic olefin) roof with a rubber-like membrane to keep the water out. TPO roofs have been on the market for about 20 years and were a new product without a long track record when the City chose a TPO roof for WCP in early 2000. While the roof lived up to its guarantee of 15 years, it has been leaking for a considerable length of time and the City now wants to replace it at a cost of more than $3 million to City taxpayers, Ouch!
So, was a TPO roof a good choice in the first place? Probably not especially if they need to be repaired or replaced every 15 years or so. RoofingCalculator.com, which rates roofs for the industry, says while cost effective and environmentally friendly, TPO roofs have several “important drawbacks,” because the process is new and manufactures are working on improvements to achieve durability at the lowest possible cost. “This means that not all TPO membranes are created equal and some perform a lot better than others,” says RoofingCalculator.com. In fact, many TPO roofs have “failed” it says.
This leaves our current Council in a jam. WFP cost $23 million to build and as of Dec. 31, 2016, there was still
$15.3 million owing on the facility in the form of two mortgages of seven and nine percent. That’s a big bill for the taxpayers, one of the biggest expenditures in the City’s budget, and it’s all going to a building that loses millions every year. But the bill must be paid. There’s no choice in the matter and neither the City or the taxpayers can just walk away from it
So, what can be done?
City staff is currently exploring options to fix the roof and will report to Council soon. No matter what “fix” is chosen the cost will be expensive and picked up by the taxpayers. The City has also hired an events manager to book more events for WCP and raise revenue for the facility. This is where we the taxpayers come into the equation. We’re the owners of the building so every time we go to a concert, swim in the pool or attend an Ice game we’re pumping money into WFP. The same applies for the businesses in WFP; pity there aren’t more of them. Nevertheless, every time you patronize them you’re supporting the most expensive facility the City owns and you’re one of the owners too.
In short, use it or lose it. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, there’s the make or break situation with the Kootenay Ice, by far WFP’s biggest single tenant. I don’t need to remind anyone how perilously close we came to losing The Ice. But we’re not out of the woods yet. In the last five years, revenues from The Ice dropped from a peak of $119,760 in the 2013/2014 season to $93,030 in the 2016/2017 season as fan attendance plummeted to around 1,700-a-game. This has got to change and change quickly or we’ll lose The Ice and WFP will lose even more money.
Currently the Ice pay an annual occupancy fee of only two per cent of gross receipts per game, a “sweetheart deal” if there ever was one. But, they also pay the City a bonus fee of $20,000 annually when the average paid attendance exceeds 2,600 per game and even more if the attendance is higher. However, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that both the City and The Ice need to be receiving more revenue in the future if the team is going to stay and WFP become less of a white elephant.
In other words, the only way WFP will stop losing money and the Ice stay in town is for Cranbrook taxpayers to give them the support they deserve.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, a WFP patron and an Ice fan.